Thursday, February 17, 2011


My book is finally out.

You can find it here:

and here:

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Google Voice: Hey, I love you and Jeff A. Victor

You may now know about Google Voice.  It's a phone number from Google and it gives you all kinds of tools for making calls, routing incoming calls, voicemail transcription, even embedding voice messages into a web page.

Concerning that last function, I was pressed for time the other day and decided to write up and record a quick dictation for my beginning French class.  The dictée was itself silly, nothing special, and you can hear it here:

I made my 37 second phone call, opened Google voice and embedded the message.  Total work time was about a minute and 10 seconds.  One thing weird was that, for several days, the transcription never appeared.  I thought, "That's not surprising, I spoke in French, and Google voice doesn't speak French."  (I should add, though, that it's English transcriptions are excellent.)

Lo and behold, the transcription turned out to be a translation--of sorts.  The line breaks are mine, as I thought it flowed better, but no other changes were made to spelling, capitalization or punctuation.

"Hey, I love you and Jeff A. Victor"
A Collaborative Work by Me and Google

Money. 8. To deal.
I will your college and I need to call me at the conditioning
read illegality not tree.  
I just lost access to.  
She me.
Yes place
I class.
If you see them.
Yes, Tower blocks.
Hey, I love you and Jeff. A. Victor.  
Yeah flaws and I. T. A point Plaza.  
Yes, Daniel from Amazon point. Com
I want to D. C. D. W with you.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Glenn Beck is Hilarious!

Just read a Media Matters review of Glenn Beck's new book Arguing with Idiots. Julie Millican does a good job dissecting the various untruths and puerile attempts at humor. Here's a good sample where she quotes Beck's "Top Ten Bastards of All Time":

In his chapter titled "U.S. Presidents: A Steady Progression of Progressives," Beck treats us to his list of the "Top Ten Bastards of All Time." The occupants of that list, in ascending order, are Pol Pot, Robert Mugabe, Teddy Roosevelt, Bernie Madoff, Adolf Hitler, Keith Olbermann, Pontius Pilate, FDR, Tiger Woods, and Woodrow Wilson. That's right, in Beck's book, mass slaughter of millions of innocents makes you a less reprehensible person than the presidents who won both World Wars for the United States.
I understand that Beck thinks this is funny. Tiger Woods is near the top of the list! Ha! LOL!

Seriously, Beck is an idiot. I get FDR. I mean, FDR created the Social Security Administration and the minimum wage and what right-winger doesn't hate FDR? But Woodrow Wilson? Is it because he helped found the League of Nations and thus supposedly started the U.S. on a path of subservience and entanglement with other countries? (There is, in right wing circles, a direct line of causation between the League of Nations and black helicopters. Google it.)

Actually, Beck, supposedly a big fan of teaching history, should read some. Does he know that Woodrow Wilson admired the KKK? Does Beck know that Wilson reintroduced official segregation to the U.S. government, which had been integrated since the Civil War?

Really, Glen, I would think good ol' racist Woodrow would be your kind of guy.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Top-ten teaching mistakes

Just got this in my email from Rick Reis, a prof at Stanford whose mailing list I subscribe too.  Just thought it would be a good reminder to myself before school starts next week.

                       The Ten Worst Teaching Mistakes

Like most faculty members, we began our academic careers with zero prior instruction on college teaching and quickly made almost every possible blunder. We've also been peer reviewers and mentors to colleagues, and that experience on top of our own early stumbling has given us a good sense of the most common mistakes college teachers make. In this column and one to follow we present our top ten list, in roughly increasing order of badness. Doing some of the things on the list may occasionally be justified, so we're not telling you to avoid all of them at all costs. We are suggesting that you avoid making a habit of any of them.

Mistake #10. When you ask a question in class, immediately call for volunteers.

You know what happens when you do that.  Most of the students avoid eye contact, and either you get a response from one of the two or three who always volunteer or you answer your own question. Few students even bother to think about the question, since they know that eventually someone else will provide the answer.

We have a suggestion for a better way to handle questioning, but it's the same one we'll have for Mistake #9 so let's hold off on it for a moment.

Mistake #9. Call on students cold.

You stop in mid-lecture and point your finger abruptly: "Joe, what's the next step?"  Some students are comfortable under that kind of pressure, but many could have trouble thinking of their own name. If you frequently call on students without giving them time to think ("cold-calling"), the ones who are intimidated by it won't be following your lecture as much as praying that you don't land on them. Even worse, as soon as you call on someone, the others breathe a sigh of relief and stop thinking.

A better approach to questioning in class is active learning.1 Ask the question and give the students a short time to come up with an answer, working either individually or in small groups. Stop them when the time is up and call on a few to report what they came up with. Then, if you haven't gotten the complete response you're looking for, call for volunteers. The students will have time to think about the question, and-unlike what happens when you always jump directly to volunteers (Mistake #10)-most will try to come up with a response because they don't want to look bad if you call on them. With active learning you'll also avoid the intimidation of cold-calling (Mistake #9) and you'll get more and better answers to your questions. Most importantly, real learning will take place in class, something that doesn't happen much in traditional lectures.2

Mistake #8. Turn classes into PowerPoint shows.

It has become common for instructors to put their lecture notes into PowerPoint and to spend their class time mainly droning through the slides. Classes like that are generally a waste of time for everyone.3 If the students don't have paper copies of the slides, there's no way they can keep up. If they have the copies, they can read the slides faster than the instructor can lecture through them, the classes are exercises in boredom, the students have little incentive to show up, and many don't.

Turning classes into extended slide shows is a specific example of:

Mistake #7. Fail to provide variety in instruction.

Nonstop lecturing produces very little learning,2 but if good instructors never lectured they could not motivate students by occasionally sharing their experience and wisdom. Pure PowerPoint shows are ineffective, but so are lectures with no visual content-schematics, diagrams, animations, photos, video clips, etc.-for which PowerPoint is ideal. Individual student assignments alone would not teach students the critical skills of teamwork, leadership, and conflict management they will need to succeed as professionals, but team assignments alone would not promote the equally important trait of independent learning. Effective instruction mixes things up: boardwork, multimedia, storytelling, discussion, activities, individual assignments, and group work (being careful to avoid Mistake #6). The more variety you build in, the more effective the class is likely to be.

Mistake #6. Have students work in groups with no individual accountability.

All students and instructors who have ever been involved with group work know the potential downside. One or two students do the work, the others coast along understanding little of what their more responsible teammates did, everyone gets the same grade, resentments and conflicts build, and the students learn nothing about high-performance teamwork and how to achieve it.

The way to make group work work is cooperative learning, an exhaustively researched instructional method that effectively promotes development of both cognitive and interpersonal skills. One of the defining features of this method is individual accountability-holding each team member accountable for the entire project and not just the part that he or she may have focused on. References on cooperative learning offer suggestions for achieving individual accountability, including giving individual exams covering the full range of knowledge and skills required to complete the project and assigning individual grades based in part on how well the students met their responsibilities to their team.4,5

Mistake #5. Fail to establish relevance.

Students learn best when they clearly perceive the relevance of course content to their interests and career goals. The "trust me" approach to education ("You may have no idea now why you need to know this stuff but trust me, in a few years you'll see how important it is!") doesn't inspire students with a burning desire to learn, and those who do learn tend to be motivated only by grades.

To provide better motivation, begin the course by describing how the content relates to important technological and social problems and to whatever you know of the students' experience, interests, and career goals, and do the same thing when you introduce each new topic. (If there are no such connections, why is the course being taught?) Consider applying inductive methods such as guided inquiry and problem-based learning, which use real-world problems to provide context for all course material.6 You can anticipate some student resistance to those methods, since they force students to take unaccustomed responsibility for their own learning, but there are effective ways to defuse resistance, 7; and the methods lead to enough additional learning to justify whatever additional effort it may take to implement them.

Mistake #4. Give tests that are too long.

Engineering professors routinely give exams that are too long for most of their students. The exams may include problems that involve a lot of time-consuming mathematical analysis and/or calculations, or problems with unfamiliar twists that may take a long time to figure out, or just too many problems. The few students who work fast enough to finish may make careless mistakes but can still do well thanks to partial credit, while those who never get to some problems or who can't quickly figure out the tricks get failing grades. After several such experiences, many students switch to other curricula, one factor among several that cause engineering enrollments to decrease by 40% or more in the first two years of the curriculum. When concerns are raised about the impact of this attrition on the engineering pipeline, the instructors argue that the dropouts are all incompetent or lazy and unqualified to be engineers.

The instructors are wrong. Studies that have attempted to correlate grades of graduates with subsequent career success (as measured by promotions, salary increases, and employer evaluations) have found that the correlations are negligible 8; students who drop out of engineering have the same academic profile as those who stay 9; and no one has ever demonstrated that students who can solve a quantitative problem in 20 minutes will do any better as engineers than students who need 35 minutes. In fact, students who are careful and methodical but slow may be better engineers than students who are quick but careless. Consider which type you would rather have designing the bridges you drive across or the planes you fly in.

If you want to evaluate your students' potential to be successful professionals, test their mastery of the knowledge and skills you are teaching, not their problem-solving speed. After you make up a test and think it's perfect, take it and time yourself, and make sure you give the students at least three times longer to take it than you needed (since you made it up, you don't have to stop and think about it)-and if a test is particularly challenging or involves a lot of derivations or calculations, the ratio should be four or five to one for the test to be fair.10

Mistake #3: Get stuck in a rut

Some instructors teach a course two or three times, feel satisfied with their lecture notes and PowerPoint slides and assignments, and don't change a thing for the rest of their careers except maybe to update a couple of references. Such courses often become mechanical for the instructors, boring for the students, and after a while, hopelessly antiquated.

Things are always happening that provide incentives and opportunities for improving courses. New developments in course subject areas are presented in research journals; changes in the global economy call on programs to equip their graduates with new skills; improved teaching techniques are described in conference presentations and papers; and new instructional resources are made available in digital libraries such as SMETE (, Merlot (, and the MIT Open Courseware site (

This is not to say that you have to make major revisions in your course every time you give it-you probably don't have time to do that, and there's no reason to. Rather, just keep your eyes open for possible improvements you might make in the time available to you. Go to some education sessions at professional conferences; read articles in educational journals in your discipline; visit one or two of those digital libraries to see what tutorials, demonstrations, and simulations they've got for your course; and commit to making one or two changes in the course whenever you teach it. If you do that, the course won't get stale, and neither will you.

Mistake #2. Teach without clear learning objectives

The traditional approach to teaching is to design lectures and assignments that cover topics listed in the syllabus, give exams on those topics, and move on. The first time most instructors think seriously about what they want students to do with the course material is when they write the exams, by which time it may be too late to provide sufficient practice in the skills required to solve the exam problems. It is pointless-and arguably unethical-to test students on skills you haven't really taught.

A key to making courses coherent and tests fair is to write learning objectives-explicit statements of what students should be able to do if they have learned what the instructor wants them to learn-and to use the objectives as the basis for designing lessons, assignments, and exams.11 The objectives should all specify observable actions (e.g., define, explain, calculate, solve, model, critique, and design), avoiding vague and unobservable terms like know, learn, understand, and appreciate. Besides using the objectives to design your instruction, consider sharing them with the students as study guides for exams. The clearer you are about your expectations (especially high-level ones that involve deep analysis and conceptual understanding, critical thinking, and creative thinking), the more likely the students will be to meet them, and nothing clarifies expectations like good learning objectives.

Mistake #1. Disrespect students.

How much students learn in a course depends to a great extent on the instructor's attitude. Two different instructors could teach the same material to the same group of students using the same methods, give identical exams, and get dramatically different results. Under one teacher, the students might get good grades and give high ratings to the course and instructor; under the other teacher, the grades could be low, the ratings could be abysmal, and if the course is a gateway to the curriculum, many of the students might not be there next semester. The difference between the students' performance in the two classes could easily stem from the instructors' attitudes. If Instructor A conveys respect for the students and a sense that he/she cares about their learning and Instructor B appears indifferent and/or disrespectful, the differences in exam grades and ratings should come as no surprise.

Even if you genuinely respect and care about your students, you can unintentionally give them the opposite sense. Here are several ways to do it: (1) Make sarcastic remarks in class about their skills, intelligence, and work ethics; (2) disparage their questions or their responses to your questions; (3) give the impression that you are in front of them because it's your job, not because you like the subject and enjoy teaching it; (4) frequently come to class unprepared, run overtime, and cancel classes; (5) don't show up for office hours, or show up but act annoyed when students come in with questions. If you've slipped into any of those practices, try to drop them. If you give students a sense that you don't respect them, the class will probably be a bad experience for everyone no matter what else you do, while if you clearly convey respect and caring, it will cover a multitude of pedagogical sins you might commit.


1. R.M. Felder and R. Brent, "Learning by Doing," Chem. Engr. Education, 37(4), 282-283 (2003), <>.
2. M. Prince, "Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research," J. Engr. Education, 93(3), 223-231 (2004), <>.
3. R.M. Felder and R. Brent, "Death by PowerPoint," Chem. Engr. Education, 39(1), 28-29 (2005), <>.
4. R.M. Felder and R. Brent, "Cooperative Learning," in P.A. Mabrouk, ed., Active Learning: Models from the Analytical Sciences, ACS Symposium Series 970, Chapter 4. Washington, DC: American Chemical Society, 2007, <>.
5. CATME (Comprehensive Assessment of Team Member Effectiveness), <>.
6. M.J. Prince and R.M. Felder, "Inductive Teaching and Learning Methods: Definitions, Comparisons, and Research Bases," J. Engr. Education, 95(2), 123-138 (2006), <>.
7. R.M. Felder, "Sermons for Grumpy Campers," Chem. Engr. Education, 41(3), 183-184 (2007), <>.
8. P.A. Cohen, "College Grades and Adult Achievement: A Research Synthesis," Res. in Higher Ed., 20(3), 281-293 (1984); G.E. Samson, M.E. Graue, T. Weinstein, & H.J. Walberg, "Academic and Occupational Performance: A Quantitative Synthesis," Am. Educ. Res. Journal, 2
21(2), 311-321 (1984).
9. E. Seymour & N.M. Hewitt, Talking about Leaving: Why Undergraduates Leave the Sciences, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1997.
10. R.M. Felder, "Designing Tests to Maximize Learning," J. Prof. Issues in Engr. Education and Practice, 128(1), 1-3 (2002).
11. R.M. Felder & R. Brent, "Objectively Speaking," Chem. Engr. Education, 31(3), 178-179 (1997), <>.

Friday, August 14, 2009

More Second Gilded Age Blogging

My world has been full of language labs, cat doors, hiking, assessment, fence building and course prep recently and I've neglected to blog about much. Meanwhile, we keep bailing out the upper 6%. The average income of this 6%? Over 30 million dollars per year. On a global scale, 300 or so individuals are worth more as a group than the bottom 2.5 billion (Harvey, A Brief history of neoliberalism). What irks me is that this is an absolutely radical transformation from 40 years ago, yet we act (see Forbes, Bush, Palin, McCain, Norquist, Newt, Armey, John Roberts, Scalia, Goldman Sachs, etc.) as if these folks are under some kind of burden, held back by meddlesome government and jealous commoners. Right.

Anyway, as always, Brad Delong gets it right, channeling Krugman quoting Saez...

More Second Gilded Age Blogging: "

Via Paul Krugman:

Even more gilded: With everything else going on, the latest inequality numbers from Emmanuel Saez, now updated to 2007, didn’t get much attention. But they’re truly amazing:

Even more gilded - Paul Krugman Blog -

That means that the top 1-10,000 of the American income distribution receives 6% of pretax household income--meaning that their average income is 600 times that of the average.

Time for a more progressive income taz, is what I am saying...

The curious thing is that Emmanuel's office is only 7 doors north down the hall, yet I have to find out about this via a loop to New Jersey...


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Lab renovation continues

I spent most of the morning in the lab today just staring at the new tables we got yesterday.  We're going from 14 fixed PC stations to 6 fixed stations and conference tables.  The tables will allow us to have seminars, better tutorings, and, with laptops, have even more people at a computer than before.

Of course, you might have noticed all the cables coming out of the floor.  Placing new outlets and running new cables is the next step.   Once that's done, we'll really be able to clean up and organize things.

You might also notice the couch and tv (running foreign language programming).

Anyway, I'm always excited about progress, and this should be a much more flexible space than before, and hopefully a little friendlier (in the spatial sense) too.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Learning Management

Educause's recent survey  shows a tremendous increase in LMS usage among campuses.  Whittier is certainly part of that group, having "chosen" Moodle.  In 2007 we had no LMS (unless you count Luminis' paltry, resource-poor system).  By 2009 we were noting thousands of logins per week--quite a feat for a school of 1400 students.

You can read the quote below, but mostly what I want to underline is the increasing reliance on an LMS to teach.  Portfolios, federated logins, social networking and modular  are already or will soon be a feature of the LMS (particularly open-source varieties). 

I can't stress enough the usefulness--even in a small-class-size liberal arts environment--of the LMS.   Here's a quote from the survey:

The learning management system (LMS) has become a mission-critical enterprise system for higher education institutions. According to the EDUCAUSE Core Data Service: Fiscal Year 2007 Summary Report, 93 percent of all campuses responding to the survey supported at least one LMS. In fact, only 0.5 percent of respondents did not deploy and had no plans to deploy such a system.6 In Campus Computing 2008, Kenneth C. Green reports that the percentage of college/university courses that use an LMS has risen from 14.7 percent in 2000 to 53.5 percent in 2008.7 Accordingly, the LMS faces challenges and concerns similar to all other enterprise systems: acquisition strategy, local needs, rising costs, data migration, system integrity, integration/interoperability with other campus resources, and expansion to purposes for which it was not initially intended.
Although the commercial LMS providers (e.g., Blackboard/Angel Learning and Desire2Learn) dominate higher education, the percentage of campuses using open-source applications (e.g., Moodle and Sakai) has nearly doubled in the last two years.8 Given the rising cost of the commercial LMS, the current economic climate, and the pattern of consolidations in the commercial LMS market, the open-source LMS may be a viable alternative for some institutions. For those institutions with an already established LMS, however, the human and technical resources needed to migrate to a new system may be a concern.
Over the years, the LMS has evolved from a content (course) management system (CMS)9 to a more all-encompassing system that includes groupware and social networking tools, as well as assessment and e-portfolios to track learning across courses and semesters. Although the LMS needs to continue serving as an enterprise CMS, it also needs to be a student-centered application that gives students greater control over content and learning. Hence, there is continual pressure for the LMS to utilize and integrate with many of the Web 2.0 tools that students already use freely on the Internet and that they expect to find in this kind of system. Some educators even argue that the next requirement is a Personal Learning Environment (PLE) that interoperates with an LMS.10
At the same time, the question remains: is the LMS being used effectively at the institution, by both faculty and students? Institutions need to ensure that there are quality guidelines for the LMS, that both faculty and staff receive training,11 and that assessment is conducted regularly.
Critical questions for Learning Management Systems include the following:
  • What factors at the institution favor buying a commercial LMS or supporting an open-source application?
  • What systems need to be integrated with the LMS: portal? e-portfolio? ERP? library resources? Does the LMS support the integration of these systems?
  • Does the institution have the development and support expertise either to support an open-source LMS or to integrate open-source components into a commercial LMS?
  • Has the institution conducted, or is it planning to conduct, an assessment of how effectively the LMS is being used? What training/support resources are available to help faculty and students make better use of the LMS features?
  • If a change will be made to a new system, what plan is in place to ensure the smooth migration of existing materials to the new system?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Lab Renovation Pictures

Progress!!!  After I spent Monday talking to concerned parties and disconnecting cables with Jeonathan, our summer worker, I walked in today and there was a big change.  Indeed, with only two days notice, maintenance came and removed most of the workstations, leaving the room to look like this:

Of course, we'll be adding tables back, but this time it will be conference and seminar tables to make the room more friendly.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Lab work is coming along

I don't know where the summer is going.  It seems that I've already been to any number of meetings and it's only mid-July.

What's up?  The lab.  We are in the midst of a major upgrade to turn 4 parallel rows of computer stations into a more user-friendly space with a conference table, round tables, and new technology.  The hope is to turn a common space into a community space.

More info and photos to come!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

RFID cat door

Ok, it's been a while.  I apologize to all my dear fans.  Things have been going like gangbusters at work and I just didn't have time.  I mean, I've hardly been able to pick up my camera.

Anyway, I did take a break yesterday afternoon.  I had to, because I got an arduino, a parallax rfid antenna and some rfid tags in the mail.  You see, we need a better cat door and yesterday I got started on the KD2000 (Kitty Door 2000) by adapting the reader code from  I've modified to make it work with my tags.

int  val = 0;
char code[12]; //The code shows a [10].  You may need to put [12] in here.  This solved a major frustration for me.
int bytesread = 0;
int ledPin = 3; //I wanted to prototype some interactivity, so I attached an led to digital pin 3.
/* In defining the variables for the tags, you'll want to list these as arrays separated by commas.  For example:
  char Biscuit[12] = "3600738183" didn't work for me.
I then revised that to do if(strcmp(code,Biscuit == 0)... That didn't work.  It was all in how I defined Biscuit as a string.  See below. */
char Biscuit[12] = {'3', '6', '0', '0', '7', '3', '8', '1', '8', '3'};       //These are obviously the tags.  With these arrays, the strcmp function worked.
char Marathon[12] = {'3', '6', '0', '0', '8', 'A', '9', '4', '4', '3'};
char Max[12] = {'3', '6', '0', '0', '5', 'C', '6', 'F', '3', '6'};
char Sage[12] = {'3', '6', '0', '0', '5', 'C', '2', 'F', 'B', '2'};
char Veeps[12] = {'3', '6', '0', '0', '5', 'B', '8', '6', 'C', '6'};

void setup() {

Serial.begin(2400); // RFID reader SOUT pin connected to Serial RX pin at 2400bps
pinMode(2,OUTPUT);   // Set digital pin 2 as OUTPUT to connect it to the RFID /ENABLE pin
digitalWrite(2, LOW);                  // Activate the RFID reader
pinMode(3,OUTPUT); // for the led on/off

 void loop() {

  if(Serial.available() > 0) {          // if data available from reader
    if((val = == 10) {   // check for header
      bytesread = 0;
      while(bytesread<10) {              // read 10 digit code
        if( Serial.available() > 0) {
          val =;
          if((val == 10)||(val == 13)) { // if header or stop bytes before the 10 digit reading
            break;                       // stop reading
          code[bytesread] = val;         // add the digit           
          bytesread++;                   // ready to read next digit  
      if(bytesread == 10) {              // if 10 digit read is complete
        Serial.print("TAG code is: ");   // possibly a good TAG
        Serial.println(code);     // print the TAG code        
        if(strcmp(code,Biscuit) == 0) {        //This is my own code.  Not hard.  There's probably a way to do this all in one line by having the the if statement run through the list of tags.
          Serial.println("Biscuit, you're in");
          if(strcmp(code,Marathon) == 0) {
            Serial.println("Marathon, you're in.");
          if(strcmp(code,Max) == 0) {
            Serial.println("Max, you're in.");
          if(strcmp(code,Sage) == 0) {
            Serial.println("Sagebrush, you're in.");
          if(strcmp(code,Veeps) == 0) {
            Serial.println("Veeps, you're in.");
            digitalWrite(ledPin, HIGH);   // sets the LED on
            delay(250);                  // waits for a second
            digitalWrite(ledPin, LOW);    // sets the LED off
          if((strcmp(code,Biscuit) !=0) && (strcmp(code,Marathon) != 0) && (strcmp(code,Max) !=0) && (strcmp(code,Sage) !=0) && (strcmp(code,Veeps) !=0)) {
          Serial.println("Illegal attempted entry");  //Any cat that shows up with an rfid will be denied and it will go on record.
      bytesread = 0;
           delay(1000);                       // wait for a second

// extra stuff
// digitalWrite(2, HIGH);             // deactivate RFID reader

It took me a while, but now everything is working.  I know my engineering and math friends will be able to cut this down to 25% of its current length.  Nonetheless, the "proof of concept" (the proof of the concept that I could do this) worked.  Of course, lots of tweaking remains for the servo, a clock, and the mandatory network interface for twittering.  Luckily I've got friends to help do this--I'm going to need them.

Here's a screenshot from the arduino serial window:

 A virtual cat just came in the house.

The biggest challenge will be getting a better name for this thing.